Smithsonian Institution
Search
Festival Dates
Festival Blog
Free Festival App
Festival Radio
Join Our Email Mailing List
Support the Festival

Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Silk Road

Nomads

Sacred Space

The Sounds of the Great Outdoors

Nomads pass their days and nights exposed to the powerful forces of nature. For them, the land itself holds sacred meaning and is the object of veneration and respect. Among the Inner Asian nomads there are many forms of spirituality, but almost all are related directly to nature. Animism is the belief that natural objects and phenomena have souls or are inhabited by spirits. For animists, the spirituality of mountains and rivers is experienced not only in their physical shape and location but also through the sounds that come from these mountains and rivers. The echo off a cliff, for example, may have spiritual significance. Animals, too, are said to express spiritual power through sound. Humans can associate themselves with this power by imitating sounds. In "throat-singing," a vocalist produces two or more notes simultaneously by selectively amplifying harmonics that are naturally present in the voice. Throat-singers can imitate birds, flowing water, wind, and many other natural sounds.

Horses, so essential to nomadic existence, are believed to possess great spiritual power, and nomads say that while they are riding they absorb the rhythm of their horses into their bodies and then can reflect this rhythm in their music. The unmistakable galloping sounds that are produced in the many stringed instruments of the Silk Road, such as the Kazakh dombra and Kyrgyz komuz, show this inspiration.

Click images to enlarge and view captions